A former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst has pleaded guilty to illegally holding classified documents and admitted in a plea agreement to passing “top secret” information to Chinese intelligence officials.
Ronald N. Montaperto, the former analyst who held a security clearance as a China specialist at a U.S. Pacific Command research center until 2004, pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful retention of national defense information, according to court papers and law officials familiar with the case, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“Montaperto admitted to verbally providing [Chinese military] attaches a considerable amount of information that was useful to them, including classified information,” according to a statement of facts submitted in the case.
Montaperto told investigators he could not recall specific information he gave Chinese attaches Col. Yang Qiming, Col. Yu Zhenghe and other Chinese officers during his 22-year career in government. But the statement said it included both “secret” and “top secret” data. It also said he had close unauthorized relationships with the two officers.
The guilty plea was part of an agreement reached Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. The conviction can carry fines of up to $250,000 and a prison term of up to 10 years. Sentencing is set for Sept. 8.
A Pentagon official said Montaperto’s value to China included both the secrets he shared and his role facilitating Chinese deception of U.S. intelligence by providing feedback on how those efforts were working.
A senior U.S. intelligence official bluntly stated, “He was a spy for China.”
During questioning by investigators in Hawaii in 2003, where he was dean of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Montaperto said he verbally gave Col. Yang and Col. Yu both “secret” and “top secret” information, the statement said.
“He admitted to passing classified information to military attaches who the FBI determined were Chinese intelligence officials,” said a law-enforcement official involved in the case.
Montaperto, 66, joined the DIA in 1981 and eight years later sought a post at the CIA that eventually led to suspicions he was a spy for China. An investigation of his links to Chinese intelligence in 1991 was dropped for lack of evidence.
He had been part of a DIA program involving authorized contacts with Chinese embassy officials. However, the statement said Montaperto failed to report his contacts, as required by security rules.
After leaving DIA, Montaperto continued in government at the National Defense University and then became the dean of the Pacific Command think tank until his dismissal in 2004.
A second investigation that led to his guilty plea was started in August 2001 and led to the discovery of classified documents in his Springfield residence.
Reached by telephone Monday at his home in Morehead City, N.C., before the plea agreement was finalized, Mr. Montaperto declined to comment.
Investigators from the FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service started a sting operation in July 2003 that involved asking Montaperto to join a China-related intelligence program that required him to undergo polygraph testing. Under questioning prior to the test, he made the admissions about passing secrets to China, the statement said.
The information supplied to the Chinese included top secret details of the sale of Chinese military equipment and missiles to the Middle East, the statement said.
The plea agreement requires Montaperto undergo debriefings and forbids him any contact with foreign agents. “He’s already given a lot of information,” one official said.
According to U.S. intelligence officials, Montaperto was among a number of U.S. intelligence officials who came under suspicion of being informants following the defection of a Chinese intelligence official in the late 1980s. The defector revealed that Beijing had successfully developed five to 10 clandestine sources of information here.
Montaperto also was part of an influential group of pro-China academics and officials in the U.S. policy and intelligence community who share similar benign views of China. The group, dubbed the Red Team by critics, harshly criticizes anyone who raises questions about the threat posed by Beijing’s communist regime.